Davenport Composer, Music Professor To Premiere New Album at Sept. 10 Concert
The Covid pandemic has tested everyone’s patience. But even pre-pandemic, award-winning composer, pianist, and music professor William Campbell was at his wit’s end.
Fortunately, he found some peace, wisdom and channeled his boundless creativity into a new album, “All In Due Time,” expressing the in-between moments of anticipation, recovery, and reflection.
This collection of evocative solo piano instrumentals is set to release September 10th, and is a product of Campbell’s experiences with events such as Covid, recovery from a debilitating
injury, and an activity called “forest-bathing.” The friendly 52-year-old is professor of music theory and composition, and chair of the music department at St. Ambrose University, and director of contemporary worship at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport.
Drawing from a wide breadth of inspiration from classical to jazz to even pop and bluegrass, Campbell’s imaginative piano work expresses a wide range of emotions while still being aesthetically in the neoclassical, minimalist genre.
The inspiration for “All In Due Time” arose when he injured his right arm playing tennis, and was forced to have surgery and wear a cast for a month in 2018. “It really threw me for a loop. I got depressed and upset, and I wasn’t sure that I was going to ever be able to play piano again.” Campbell said recently, noting his arm was injured for a year, and there were things he couldn’t do for over a year. “That feeling was really similar to the way that a lot of us were describing our emotions during the shutdowns as a result of Covid. To have a piece of music that reflected these feelings in a calm manner was therapeutic for me and for my audiences.”
He had cortisone shots and underwent physical therapy, but it didn’t work well and he was in constant pain.
“I wasn’t able to play for a month. That would be like taking away a visual artist’s hand that he paints with, and the brush,” Campbell said. “I was depressed, very concerned about the future. But I knew that if I just waited, had some patience and was able to accept where I was, and have trust in the science, that things would be good. It was in the process of writing the music, with my left hand, on the piano, that I came to realize all would be well in due time, and that’s the title of
He wrote the piece (for left hand alone) in 2018, but didn’t record it until March 2021. Some of the music on the new release also dates from 2017.
Campbell bought a new Yamaha C7 grand piano and new recording equipment, to record at home. “I know what I want and I’ve achieved it,” he said. “The other part of this album is that I was my own engineer. It took me a year and a half to dial in the right sound, because there was no assistant and there was no way to bring anybody in, because of Covid.”
“You’ll find the Yamaha C7 in most recording studios, by far,” Campbell said. “I’ve got what’s called a stereo ribbon mic, and I’ve got a dedicated pre-amp just for that. So I invested a lot of money, and that’s what you do. I know exactly the placement for it.”
“I really believe in this music and I think it can do people some good,” he said. “I really believe this. I think we could all use less noise in our lives. Listening to this album, and taking the time to do that can really help.”
While nearly a decade has passed since his debut 2011 album “Piano Songs,” his artistry has been anything but idle. In addition to many new works for choirs, orchestras, and chamber groups, Campbell composed film scores for two Oscar-nominated documentaries, “Lifeboat” (2019) and “Hunger Ward” (2020), and earned a regional Emmy nomination and won an Iowa Motion Picture Association award for his
original score to the film “Sons & Daughters of Thunder” (2020).
“Hunger Ward,” (a 40-minute feature on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen) was among five 93rd-annual Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary, Short Subject. Campbell was part of the film crew that attended the 91st-annual Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, in February 2019, when the second film in the refugee trilogy, “Lifeboat” (2018) – which he also scored — was nominated in the same category (the trilogy was directed by Skye Fitzgerald, who is based in Portland, Ore.).
All the film scores he’s done, Campbell also has recorded himself, and has been part of many other recording projects done at studios.
“You’re only as good as the sound people hear,” he said. “There are a lot of composers that do this, that are performers who invest in recording equipment, and then they can do what they want to do.”
In the past few years, he’s also gathered inspiration from nature, through shinrin-yoku, Japanese for “forest-bathing,” which is simply the act of receiving physical and psychological healing from being in nature, as studies show.
“All In Due Time” evokes the importance of these moments, because sometimes doing nothing can be just as impactful as doing something, and increase a kind of inner strength.
All the new music has “this idea of finding peace within maybe a difficult situation, or finding peace within a moment you need it,” he said. One piece is called “Wonder With Clouds,” recalling watching clouds go by and being one with nature. “A lot of the music on this album has that connection with the natural world,” Campbell said. “Other people have told me the same thing.”
A piece penned in the heart of shutdown, “Awakening,” starts out dark and unfolds into something else, taking on a different shape, he said. “Again, it builds this kind of strength, gradually. It’s not based on any natural thing in particular, but for me it sounds kind of like a time-lapse of watching over one day, the folding and unfolding of a crocus flower, from that early-morning darkness.”
“That’s a brave thing to do; you imagine a flower so delicate,” the composer said. “Imagine what the crocus and these other early spring things have to do – they have to break through ice and snow, to give us the most delicate beauty that the world can give. That’s so beautiful. And that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.”
“You have to be so brave to bring beauty to the world,” Campbell said. “Because the world – especially society – it has different rules. I really feel like this album could help support people, to help give them strength to help bring their own beauty into the world.”
The digital bonus track is a piece of his first called “Finding Peace,” but retitled “Seeking Peace.”
“It took me four years to realize what it was about,” Campbell said, noting he wrote it as a reflection on music he wrote for Skye Fitzgerald’s documentary “50 Feet From Syria” (2015).
“Sometime in the transition of 2020 to 2021, I renamed it ‘Seeking Peace’,” he said. “You haven’t found it yet, and for me, that is key. Now that music is done; I’m not going to mess with it again.”
It works in “All in Due Time,” with its theme of peace, and Zen moments – of quietude, to find that personal power, gathering strength, Campbell said.
After recording in March, Campbell got feedback from a review team he put together of other musicians and colleagues. “I was able to tweak some things about the sound,” he said. “I worked with a mastering engineer in Los Angeles to get the sound a little more polished and so that it could be distributed as what’s called a lossless and digital master, which is important for iTunes and Apple Music.”
“What I’m writing it for is a pretty dedicated, specialized audience,” he said. “The music I write is more – I’m not writing pop music for mass consumption. I’m writing for people who want to listen to this and want to listen to it in the best way possible.”
Campbell wants listeners to feel like they’re sitting right next to him as he plays, or in the best seat of a pristine concert hall.
“Then because of Covid, everything’s slow, because it’s hard to find employees everywhere,” he said. “It’s hard to find the materials, so there’s a shortage of all kinds of materials for albums, when you’re making a CD or vinyl, and I’m doing both.”
The vinyl won’t be available until November, but anyone ordering the vinyl can get the full digital download right away, which has an extra piece that the vinyl doesn’t. “That’s due not only to a global demand for vinyl, but secondly, a shortage of materials,” Campbell said. “Then there’s also transportation issues.”
“Be careful when you name an album,” he joked. “If you name an album ‘All in Due Time,’ guess what? It’ll come all in due time; you have to be patient for it. I’m so excited to be sharing this music. I’m hoping people will get into it. It’s pretty calming, but it’s full of hope as well. It’s introspective and meditative, but it’s also full of a quiet power, that allows people to really gather some strength, so when they’re ready to move on to the next thing, they’re filled with this personal power.”
Campbell says he has an album and a half of other pieces he’s written and continues to write every week.
“The music in this album was specifically collected from music I had written up to that moment, that would go along together,” he said. “It’s like a concept album, really. I didn’t want this piece, and he’s got a random piece next, a disconnection.”
Influenced by Covid and John Cage
Any fan of theater or film should find this album compelling from beginning to end, Campbell said. “It’s a personal narrative, that each person interprets for themselves. Like any good concept album, or going back to the days of Schumann and Schubert, any good art song cycle. So, the concept was great – I have music I’m really looking forward to sharing with people, much more exuberant. But it didn’t make it onto this album because this is an album of collecting power in quiet times, and that was a Covid thing.
“During the time of Covid, I did write three pieces that are on the album,” he said, citing one based on John Cage work, “Vast Expanse” (the 7th of eight tracks) on “All in Due Time.”
“It’s about the vast expanse of the universe, but also the vast expanse of the microscopic level we’re now just discovering,” Campbell said. In
some ways, the piece adds in improvisation, a new discovery. “What Cage would do, he’d have a fixed idea of things, versus things that would happen in the moment.” Many musicians have been influenced by Cage (1912-1992) as an artist-philosopher, he said.
“Without Cage, there wouldn’t be minimalism, and without Cage there wouldn’t be ambient music,” Campbell said. “This piece is more and both at the same time. It’s really a cool piece. And it’s different every time I play it, by design. The moment captured in the recording, is the first time I played it.”
He performed one-hour programs at the lobby of the Figge Art Museum for the Alternating Currents music festival Aug. 19 and 21, and will debut all the music from “All In Due Time” at an album release concert on Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Galvin Fine Arts Center on the St. Ambrose University campus. Campbell played mainly new music at the Figge, accompanied by digitalizations of artwork on a screen. “It was totally cool,” he said, noting artist friends provided pieces that he arranged on computer.
“The audience was able to linger visually on what I wanted them to, while I was playing the music I felt went along with the art,” Campbell said. “What was really nice was, people stayed throughout the performance. As an artist, you expect to be distracted by people walking in and out, in a festival crowd. It was nice.”
He also presented “Hunger Ward” on Saturday afternoon during Alternating Currents, and will do another screening Sept. 15 at Galvin Fine Arts Center, with a Q & A following with director Skye Fitzgerald.
The Sept. 10 concert has $15 admission for general public (masks will be required), and the music will be accompanied by visual art from SAU and local artists Joseph Lappie, Renee Meyer Ernst, Nicolas Propes, Chris Reno, Randy Richmond, and Kristin Quinn. It will be held in Galvin’s Allaert Auditorium. Campbell also will play a new piano piece he’s writing for the inauguration and installation of new SAU president Amy Novak on Oct. 1.
To learn more and hear more of Campbell’s music, visit www.williamcampbellmusic.com/.